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Driver Charged in Palo Alto Fatal Ambulance Crash

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The driver of a private ambulance that crashed in Palo Alto on Dec. 22, killing a 56-year-old female patient, has been charged with misdemeanor manslaughter in Santa Clara County Superior Court, authorities said.

John Curiel, a 19-year-old Concord resident, surrendered and is out on $10,000 bail while awaiting trial, said Palo Alto police Agent Dan Ryan.

An investigation found that the cause of the crash was Curiel's speed and his failure to follow a curve on University Avenue, Ryan said. Together they add up to "overall negligence," he said, the basis for the manslaughter charge.

The ambulance, owned by Concord-based Bay Medic, hit a tree near Chaucer Street and rolled onto its left side, severely injuring the patient, Alba Perez of Pittsburg. She died Christmas Eve at Stanford Hospital.

The police probe also found that Perez had not been properly strapped in, Ryan said. She was supposed to be belted to a gurney, which in turn was supposed to be secured to the interior of the ambulance. Instead, she was sitting partially upright on the gurney, which was free to roll around, Ryan said.

Charges were considered, but in the end not filed, for the two emergency medical technicians in the rear, he added.

Perez, who had back problems, was being transported to a routine therapy appointment, authorities said at the time. The ambulance did not have its lights or sirens on.

Curiel, who told police after the crash he had been knocked out and didn't remember it, still has not been able to explain what happened, Ryan said Tuesday.

In the wake of the accident, police posted a sign at the scene asking anyone who witnessed it to call with information. Ryan said a doctor saw it and came forward with facts that helped police sort out what happened.

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